Breakthrough At The King Of Jeans


King of Jeans site revised rendering | Image: Qb3

Thanks to a provision in the city’s new zoning code, the developer Max Glass was able to add a floor to his proposed apartment-office-retail building at East Passyunk and Mifflin Streets in East Passyunk Crossing. The additional floor transforms what was a fairly interesting remake of the iconic South Philly King of Jeans corner into a piece of contemporary architecture that conveys movement, dynamism, and transparency. (Saving the wonderful K of J sign in place was never a realistic idea, but it’s likely to be preserved off site.)

With the additional floor, the offset window pattern the architects at Qb3 studio designed to break up the traditional window-over-window layout is given an additional power: to convey the fluid energy of the city street.

King of Jeans original proposal | Image: Qb3

This is, indeed, a veritable breakthrough. For generations we’ve lived by what might have been a God-given rule, that neighborhood buildings, as long as they weren’t churches or factories or schools, needed to be no taller than 35 feet.

Most of us like this rule. It has given Philadelphia neighborhoods the distinctive human scale that so ably enhances sociability and community. That’s what makes the Passyunk building noteworthy, for it reminds us that sometimes there are rewards to breaking with tradition.

Photo: Hidden City Daily

The reward in this case will be a building of increased density that is capable of addressing multiple neighborhood needs all at once–the kind of flexibility of purpose that’s a true hallmark of successful contemporary architecture.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the rather backwards architecture of two Toll Brothers’ projects now underway. The principle design idea behind these projects is mimicry of traditional architecture. Several readers wrote in to say that Toll shouldn’t be excoriated–they’re merely building what people want. While I reject the argument that one ought not question the supreme wisdom of the market, I do agree that most people like traditional architecture, even when it is faked. This is the case all over the world.

At the Krishna Singh Nanotechnology Center at Penn, under construction, innovation in the lab meets design innovation | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Certainly, we give our lives meaning by connecting to the past.

But we also want, with equal force and desire, to break with tradition and invent the future. We’re desperate to be cool, to be cooler than the rest. For cities, this desire is survival. It is no coincidence that what characterizes Philadelphia’s very real reemergence is the sense that it’s a cool place to be–and not cool because it’s grungy and old and idiosyncratic, but because our chefs innovate, our dancers innovate, our fashion designers innovate, our scientists innovate.

And our real estate developers? I have a feeling we’re heading for a breakthrough.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."


  1. You are right. The glass addition by Glass looks great in that rendering.

  2. It’s a real clear-story!

  3. You mean the sign with the girl on her knees about to give the guy a BJ is gonna be preserved? WTF? I’ve protested that piece of misogynist s–t to the owner!

  4. Dear Nathaniel,
    Though I agree with you that the rendering is a nice image, I am skeptical that we are seeing what will be built. To keep it simple there are aspects of the representation that suggest some very ambitious and highly unlikely building techniques:

    The top floor has oversized stationary windows that start at the roof line, missing is a parapet wall or roof joists.

    The spans above the glazing and the layout of the lower windows would necessitate a secondary structure on the interior of the building to handle the load on the facade which would function as a curtain wall.

    The windows in the brick section look to be set over 12-16″ deep and though I would like to think that this is because they are building a passive haus certified structure which requires overly thick walls to house the insulation, again it seems highly unlikely they would lose this square footage on the interior or build a facade that hangs more than a foot over the property line.

    I hope I am wrong, or, I hope that the creativity they displayed in photoshop will translate in a similar but different actual building.


    • right on. The devil is in the details. I would be very, very surprized if the built project looks anywhere as good as the drawing. Developers are fully aware of the difference between plans and reality, but they also understand the power of PR.

  5. Can we get some clarification?
    What exactly is “traditional” architecture?


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